Super Sein-off

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The nation bids farewell to Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, George and Newman on Thursday night, but it's primarily NBC that's no longer going to be laughing.

While NBC will reap a windfall in advertising revenue from the finale and the highlights show that precedes it, the long-term loss of the show from its schedule means the network will take a financial hit.


"These last few years, everyone wanted to be on `Seinfeld' despite the fact it's been the most expensive buy on TV," said one top agency buyer. "That allowed NBC to package it with lots and lots of other shows on their schedule that ordinarily would go begging, relatively speaking."

Whatever show NBC taps to replace "Seinfeld" just won't have that halo effect, the buyer said.

That explains why advertisers are lining up for a last crack at the series before it goes off the air. But there's no sold-out sign up yet. On May 8, NBC had two 30-second units still available, buyers said. That's in part because the show was extended from 1 hour to about 75 minutes, giving NBC a total of 24 30-second national units in the finale.

NBC originally asked $2 million per :30, but network insiders said spots sold for a still-record $1.7 million to $1.8 million. Some buyers claimed to pay about $1.4 million, still higher than commercial costs for this year's Super Bowl.

Combined with the premium rates charged for the highlights show and the season finale of "ER" airing after the "Seinfeld" finale, NBC will bring in about $72 million in ad revenue for the night.


Sponsors are treating the "Seinfeld" finale as a Super Bowl-style event, using the show to kick off new campaigns or, in some cases, betting a big chunk of their annual ad budget on the episode.

Tiny Gardenburger, for example, is taking an ad on the show in the hopes of thrusting its meatless "hamburgers" into the mainstream. The company had revenue of just $13 million in the first quarter, but raised $15 million in subordinated debt to finance a new ad campaign and is spending almost $2 million of that on the "Seinfeld" spot.

At the other end of the spectrum, ad giant General Motors Corp. is buying two spots, one expected to be used to tout the Cadillac, the other for the Buick Century.

The new Buick campaign is being supported with a "Seinfeld"-specific print drive. One print ad reads, "Dear Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George: After your last show, we'd be pleased to drive you home. And bring the soup guy, too. There's plenty of room."

McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy, Mich., handles Buick; D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, also Troy, has Cadillac.


Telecom giants AT&T Corp., Sprint Communications Corp. and MCI Communications Corp. had all taken a pass as of press time, but Celluar One grabbed a 15-second spot. It will air a commercial in which a boy scout saves his lost troop by using a Cellular One phone. Publicis/Bloom, Dallas, created the spot.

If the telecom wars won't be front and center, the beer wars will.

Both Adolph Coors Co. and Anheuser-Busch are believed to be airing ads. Neither will discuss creative, but A-B is expected to air a new lizard spot for Budweiser via Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, while Coors is expected to air a new spot from Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco.

The Coors spot is said to show two young men in a sports utility vehicle who run out of gas in the desert, push the vehicle to a gas station and then use their remaining money to buy beer instead of gas.


Retailers are shying away from the finale with the exception of The Gap, which bought two ads, one for its Gap khakis and one for Old Navy.

The most offbeat spot on the show may be the one from Bayer Corp. for its flea-control product Advantage (see story on Page 18), via Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo.

MasterCard International and Visa USA both have spots on the finale. MasterCard isn't talking, but the Visa spot--from BBDO Worldwide, New York--features hipsters decked out in retro duds at a secondhand clothing store in Las Vegas.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is taking two spots on the finale, one for Nice 'n Easy and, most likely, one for Herbal Essence. Intutition Group, New York, and the Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, are the agencies, respectively.

Other marketer's advertising on the finale include American Home Products, Canon USA, Fuji Photo Film USA, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros. and Wendy's International.

Contributing: James B. Arndorfer, Mercedes M. Cardona, Alice Z. Cuneo, Jeff Jensen, Louise Kramer, Bradley Johnson, Laura Petrecca, Judann Pollack, Pat Sloan, Beth Snyder and Michael Wilke.

Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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